Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My grandmother owned an upright piano and used it to play simplified arrangements of jazz standards. As a young child, I used to live in the flat above and enjoyed visits during her morning ritual, which consisted of drinking Turkish/Arabic coffee, cigarette in hand, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Billie Holiday amongst other jazz artists from the Golden Era. She almost certainly passed on her pure love of music to my father, who had similar recordings playing on cassettes, LPs and CDs in our own flat most of the time.

I’m not sure that this led to me becoming a professional classical pianist though. I believe the joy experienced by amateurs while listening to or playing music is often lost on professionals (especially within the classical music industry) who often use music to serve rather personal goals in their lives, such as becoming the very best at something – a very questionable goal to aspire to in the subjective world of the fine arts, in my opinion. My family’s love of jazz certainly made me want to have music all around me and led to drum kit lessons with my father at the age of three and piano lessons at the age of five with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva – an exceptional teacher and composer who was based in Amman at the time. I moved to the UK as an eleven year old to pursue my professional training and education. This was probably what actually placed me on the path to becoming a professional, having received a solid technical foundation in the Russian School of piano playing from Agnes, a Georgian educated in Moscow.

My grandmother gave me her piano about a year after I started lessons because she felt that my electric keyboard had surpassed its usefulness. This will always be one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever offered me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have received input from quite a few extraordinary musicians; I met Yo-Yo Ma as a ten year old during the first West Eastern Divan workshop, which was directed by Daniel Barenboim who has mentored me on many occasions since. He has also invited me to tour with him and the West Eastern Divan as a soloist, playing works that include Berg’s Chamber Concerto which certainly shaped my interest in the Second Viennese School. I am privileged to have been introduced to a genre by one of its top authorities.

I will certainly never forget the late Sir Colin Davis’ advice on how to start the angelic ‘Siciliana’ movement (II) as I prepared for our performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in A major with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. Furthermore, my lesson with the late Pierre Boulez on his own ‘12 Notations’ for solo piano at the Royal Academy will remain one of the most important and cherished musical experiences of my life, of course.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that my piano, theory, composition and conducting teachers had the biggest influences on my development, as they helped shape my musicianship very directly. Since leaving Jordan, I have studied piano with Tatiana Sarkissova (who was my main professor in the UK), Hinrich Alpers and Tessa Nicholson, composition with Jonathan Cole and Graham Williams, conducting with Paul Brough, Denise Ham, Quentin Poole and Peter Stark. Though I have had many fantastic theory teachers over the years, the Chicago-based conductor and arranger Cliff Colnot was one of the best pedagogues one could ask for, as I discovered during the many hours I spent analysing full scores of the symphonic repertoire with him. We met during summer West Eastern Divan workshops Seville, Spain and during visits that I made to Chicago for intensive courses as a teenager.

Since moving to Berlin, I have spent a lot of time learning about early music from the renowned scholar, viol player and director of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus. I remember attending one of his lectures during his visit to the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and subsequently reading his essay ‘Beyond the Interpretation of Music’ which, I can safely say, forced me to reconsider everything I had learned about studying and preparing repertoire of any genre.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Remaining moderately sane.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m quite concerned about the levels of narcissism within our industry – especially since the onset of social media – so I’m careful to avoid pride, as much as I can. For clarity, I do use social media but try my best to be as pragmatic about it as possible. Focusing on the experience of performing is more of a priority for me, rather than the many emotions and thoughts that follow. They are after all pretty useless unless they help me improve.

However, if I had to choose one memorable performance to discuss, I would say that it was particularly interesting to play Schoenberg’s op. 11 to a group of students at the Hind Al–Husseini College in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine. It is very likely that some of these students had never been exposed to any classical music at all until then (within the frame of attending live concerts). So the discussion about ‘Drei Klavierstuecke op. 11’ that followed my performance was fascinating, particularly as they had the advantage, as listeners, of having no strong standard to compare atonality to.* I remember one student saying that she imagined a scene from a horror movie while I was playing. Considering the fact that Schoenberg moved to Hollywood in 1934, I thought that this was very perceptive indeed. After all he must have influenced a whole generation of film composers as one of the University of Southern California’s and University of California, Los Angeles’ most valued pedagogues.

I’m very pleased that this event took place.

*Arabic music is mainly monophonic, with intricacy and complexity in the melodic ornamentation and rhythm rather than the homophonic movement of parts – in other words it’s more of a horizontal tradition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure, tough one. Sorry!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am naturally quite a curious person, so my approach to music has always been interest-driven. What I offer in recitals is usually linked to what I have been exploring as a listener, these days, now that I am no longer a studying in a traditional sense. Certainly my engagement with English Renaissance music developed because of my interest in Renaissance music in general. I was exposed to it at the Purcell School – we had to sing a fair amount of Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd in choir – and really enjoyed the counterpoint and modality back then, although I was probably too young to fully appreciate its beauty. However, it was a performance of Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the English National Opera (especially the final duet) that really got me hooked as a listener. So by the time I met Laurence Dreyfus, I was ready to start working on and studying the genre more extensively.

There is no rich tradition of performing Renaissance keyboard music on the modern piano, (Sokolov and Gould are both true heroes of mine, as different as they are, but there aren’t many others who venture out into this territory) so the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s survey of John Bull’s keyboard works was a very important and revelatory recording to listen to. Thankfully, he was very generous when I emailed him with questions, and invited me to Prague for some coaching. It was heart-warming to see how very encouraging he was about playing this music on the modern piano and using the instrument idiomatically to serve it. He had many suggestions for further keyboard repertoire that I should explore.

In general, I avoid chronological programming, so called well-balanced programming where one tries to tick boxes across genres that are limited to music written between about 1750 and 1950, exclusively nineteenth century programmes and single composer programmes (unless it’s a performance of the Goldberg Variations, which I sometimes play on it’s own, but usually start the concert with some Boulez or Schoenberg).

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Not really, but playing at Luzern’s KKL and the new Philharmonie de Paris, both with Daniel Barenboim, were exceptional experiences – the acoustics really allow you to take risks with soft dynamics. Both halls were designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s K467 in Petra, Jordan as an 11 year old. Nothing quite beats Mozart in the middle of the desert, in front of a World Heritage Site as far as memorability goes!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Artistic fulfilment and paying all the bills simultaneously.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

1) Constantly listening to and studying (not only practising) music with child-like curiosity.

2) Keeping a healthy check on one’s ego – it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to be the centre of attention (i.e on stage) and when it’s in one’s best interest to be a more generous spirit (backstage and everywhere outside the concert hall).

Karim Said’s new album ‘Legacy’ is available now on the Rubicon Classics label. Further information


Karim Said came to the public’s attention in 2009, playing concertos with the late Sir Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra in London’s Barbican Centre and at the BBC PROMS with Daniel Barenboim and his West Eastern Divan. Karim has regularly toured with the Divan orchestra as a soloist, under Maestro Barenboim’s baton, performing at such halls as the Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Mostly recently, Karim appeared with the Maestro as a soloist in the opening night of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, playing the Berg Chamber Concerto.

Karim’s debut album ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (Opus Arte – 2015) was one of Gramphone’s ‘Top Ten recordings of Janacek’ (2016). The repertoire on this album was inspired by his London recital debut series at the Southbank Centre in 2013, where he played the complete solo works by Arnold Schoenberg over three recitals as part of the ‘International Piano Series’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival. As a chamber musician and song accompanist, Karim has collaborated with artists including Waltraud Meier, Dorothea Röschmann, Gabriel Croitoru, Adrian Brendel, and the Utrecht String Quartet.

Earlier this year, Karim launched the Etihad String Orchestra in his native Jordan as its first Music Director and performed with the European Youth Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko at the Dubai Opera House.

Born in Amman, Jordan in 1988, Karim commenced his piano with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva before moving to the UK in 2000, aged eleven. He studied piano, composition and conducting at the renowned Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music, both on full scholarships. At the Academy he studied with Prof Tatiana Sarkissova. In more recent years, Karim was coached by Hinrich Alpers in Berlin, where he is currently based. As a conductor, Karim attended masterclasses with Bernard Haitink at the Royal College of Music during his studies in the UK.

Karim Said was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2017.

karimsaid.com


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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Nobody has forced me or suggested me to become a musician. My parents had many recordings as they were classical music lover. So I often listened to classical music since when I was a child and I liked it very much. That’s how I started to become close to and to love classical music.

Who or what have been the greatest influences on your musical life and career?

I would say meeting with many great musicians have been the most important influences on my musical life, people like Myung-Whun Chung, Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and many others…..I learned a lot even while having a conversation with them.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Maybe participating some competitions….. I wanted to play for audiences across the world and I thought winning the competition was the easiest way to reach that goal. And it was true, the Chopin Competition gave me a lot of opportunities, but I’m still against competitions. Many great musicians like Arcadi Volodos or Piotr Anderszewski didn’t win any competitions.  The competition kills the musical idea, imagination and freedom. I felt so free after I won the Chopin competition because I realized that I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Brahms Quartet in g minor from the Rubinstein competition in 2014. It was the only performance which I enjoyed during that competition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have no idea…

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

These days I simply play the pieces that I want to play. A few years ago, I wanted to show or express many sides of my musicality. But not anymore. I always feel comfortable when I play the music I love.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

So many places where they have a good piano, good acoustic and good audience. Like Carnegie hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin’s Philharmonie, KKL in Luzern, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Suntory hall in Tokyo…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Arcadi Volodos, Grigory Sokolov, Carlos Kleiber, Myung Whun Chung any many others

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut recital in Korea in 2005 when I was 11. After the performance, I realized that I really loved sharing my music with the audience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Actually I still don’t know what being successful as a musician is and I don’t want to think about it. My goal is play better than yesterday and to be satisfied with my performance more often. I’m rarely happy with my performance…

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Don’t expect the compensation after you decide to become a pianist or musician

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I love to be in a place where there no noise. I love silence. And having good food and drink with my family or friends.

 

Seong-Jin Cho’s new recording of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, Piano Sonatas K. 281, k.332 (Deutsche Grammophon, CD 0289 483 5522 8) is available now
Seong-Jin Cho was brought to the world’s attention in 2015 when he won the First Prize at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. This same competition launched the careers of world-class artists such as ‎Martha Argerich, ‎Maurizio Pollini, or ‎Krystian Zimerman.

In January 2016, Seong-Jin signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The first recording was released in November 2016 featuring Chopin’s First Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda and the Four Ballades. A solo Debussy recording was then released in November 2017. Both albums won impressive critical acclaim worldwide. In 2018 he will record a Mozart program with sonatas and the D minor concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin.

An active recitalist, he performs in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. In the 2018/19 season, he will return to the main stage of Carnegie Hall as part of the Keyboard Virtuoso series where he had sold out in 2017. He will also return to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in the Master Pianists series and will play recitals at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal (Berliner Philharmonic concert series), Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles Philharmonic recital series), Zurich’s Tonhalle-Maag, Stockholm’s Konserthuset, Munich’s Prinzregententheater, Chicago’s Mandel Hall, Lyon’s Auditorium, La Roque d’Anthéron Festival, Verbier Festival, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Rheingau Festival among several other venues.

During the next two seasons, he will play with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, at the Barbican Centre, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung at the Paris Philharmonie, Gewandhaus Orchestra with Antonio Pappano, Hong Kong Philharmonic with Jaap van Zweden, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, Finnish Radio Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin, Orchestra della Scala with Myung-Whun Chung. He will also tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda in venues like Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Robin Ticciati in Germany, the WDR Sinfonieorchester and Marek Janowski in Germany and Japan, and with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Asia.

He collaborates with conductors at the highest level such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov, Krzysztof Urbanski, Fabien Gabel, Marek Janowski, Vasily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Leonard Slatkin or Mikhail Pletnev.

In November 2017, Seong-Jin stepped in for Lang Lang with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hong-Kong and Seoul. Other major orchestral appearances include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Mariinsky Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, RAI Symphony Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.

Born in 1994 in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho started learning the piano at 6 and gave his first public recital at age 11. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever winner of Japan’s Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. In 2011, he won Third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 17. In 2012, he moved to Paris to study with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique where he graduated in 2015. He is now based in Berlin.

seongjin-cho.com

Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music? 

When I was really young my brother, who is older than me, played violin. I thought that looked like a lot of fun so I also started playing too. That is what got me interested in music to start with. In our home we had a very old upright piano, I think it cost £100. It was really terrible, almost untune-able. My brother and I would play around on it, making a terrible noise until my mum got so fed up with it that she found a local piano teacher to help tame us! I found that I enjoyed playing piano and would spend hours practising and trying out new things. My parents are not at all musical so they didn’t really know what to do with me when I began to become more and more interested in playing.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

 I think that my first piano teacher, Claire Swainsbury, had a huge effect on me. She showed me how much fun I could have playing piano and introduced me to some beautiful pieces of music. Then later on Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a big influence along with the conductor Alexander Sladkovsky.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

I think that in the UK Classical Music is sometimes difficult for people to understand, whereas in many other countries, Russia especially, it is more a part of everyday life. The education system in the UK doesn’t really help either. So I guess that is a pretty big challenge… for everyone involved in classical music in the UK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

That would have to be Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 with Alexander Sladkovsky in Kazan.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I enjoy performing a wide range of work but I do have my favourites, like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Liszt. I think that if you enjoy performing a piece of music you will usually play it well. I’ve always been fond of performing the great Russian romantic composers, although I’m never sure if I play these pieces the best. But I do know that I really enjoy this kind of repertoire.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I always have a list of pieces that I want to perform, I choose the ones that fit with the way I am feeling at the time when I am ready to begin a new piece.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

I love performing in Russia and of course the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory has to be my favourite. Mainly because of the acoustics but also because of the long history behind this amazing concert hall and the many legendary artists who have performed there.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I think my all time favourite would have to be Horowitz, who, when he first started performing, was paid in butter and chocolate… sounds good to me!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing with Valery Gergiev and having a ten minute rehearsal for an entire concerto which ended five minutes before going on stage. That was interesting.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

For me success in music isn’t something that you can ever really achieve or reach. Certainly I try to improve my understanding of a piece of music, but I am not sure if I will ever succeed in doing so completely.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Always remember that music is an art form, not a science. It comes from the heart. So be yourself when you perform no matter what the people around you are telling you.


Born in Hackney in the UK, British pianist George Harliono was invited to make his first one hour long, solo recital at the age of nine. Since then he has performed in numerous locations both in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, appearing at venues such as Wigmore Hall, The Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Albert Hall and Chicago Symphony Centre.

In 2013 he was invited to record Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.2 No.1 at the Southbank Centre in London. In 2016 his performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 at the Great Hall of The Moscow Conservatory was broadcast live on Russian national TV and streamed live on Medici TV.

Since his concerto debut at the age of 12 he has been a regular performer with orchestras including the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago and Tyumen Philharmonic Orchestra. George also regularly performs alongside eminent artists such as Lang Lang and Denis Matsuev and has worked with many renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Evgeny Shestakov and Francesco Milioto

George has been awarded prizes in numerous competitions throughout the world including The Grand Piano Competition in Moscow, Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London, Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in Utah and Dinu Lipatti Piano Competition in Bucharest

Most recently he performed with The Mariinsky Orchestra in Vladivostok, Russia under the baton of Valery Gergiev and was also invited to perform a recital as part of the Scherzo Young Series in Madrid. Scherzo is the most important piano series in Madrid and has previously featured artists such as Yuja Wang and Mitsuko Uchida.

He studies with Professor Vanessa Latarche (Chair of International Keyboard Studies and Head of Keyboard, Royal College of Music in London) and travels to Switzerland to work with his mentor, renowned pianist professor Vovka Ashkenazy and also his father Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has taken masterclasses with Dmitri Bashkirov, Lang Lang and Vladimir Ovchinikov among others. George also works closely with Alexander Sladkovsky who has taken a personal interest in his development as an artist.

George began studying at The Royal College of Music for a BMUS Degree on a full four year scholarship in September of last year. He is one of the youngest students ever to be accepted onto this course.

Upcoming engagements for this year include performances with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev and Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Santa Fe conducted by Walter Hilgers. George will also be giving a concerto performance at the Berliner Philharmonie as well as a recital at the Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama, Japan.

georgeharliono.net

(Photo: Alexander Von Busch and Kir Simakov)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I don’t think I can give a definite answer but I remember an immediate fascination with the piano though it wasn’t really something I seriously pursued until the age of about 11. Having said this, I don’t think one really chooses to pursue music but, rather, that it is a calling.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I suppose, repertoire-wise, Marc-André Hamelin was the biggest influence – his recordings really opened the door to me as to what there was off the beaten track. Opera has also been quite important to me in recent years. Aside from these more obvious things, art and literature (contemporaneous to whichever music I’m studying) are generally of huge importance when it comes to cultivating an understanding of the music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think most musicians, if they’re honest, will answer that earning a living is up there. In connection to this is the aspect of striking a healthy balance between teaching and playing together with whatever else we have to do.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

There are some tracks I’m very proud of. I think all CD recordings I’ve made I’m proud of in different ways but, for me, I also think it’s more a sense of what each CD represents; what was going on in my life at the time and the memories connected with learning the works.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

At the moment I am especially drawn to the nineteenth century. I feel I have a particular flare for operatic fantasies but if you had told me that ten years ago I would have laughed in utter disbelief!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

At the moment, it tends to revolve around what I’m doing recording-wise but not exclusively so. There are also certain things I imagine I would like to play at certain times of the year – not quite sure why that is but the seasons do influence this.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I can’t say I do though there are places I enjoy playing and I do sometimes programme works specifically for the space and instrument if I feel it might be particularly gratifying.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Marc-André Hamelin, Myra Hess, Georges Cziffra, Raymond Lewenthal, Maria Callas and Richard Bonynge to mention but a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably giving the Hellenic première of the Liszt Hexaméron in Athens, 2012.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Earning a living – the rest is an added bonus.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think a sense of what our purpose is. It’s something so obvious it’s overlooked. The world will always need music – it comforts, enlightens and, above all, unites us. Sharing it I regard as a solemn duty and one of grave importance in these fractured and distorted times.


Mark Viner is recognized as one of the most exciting British concert pianists of his generation and is becoming increasingly well known for his bold championing of unfamiliar pianistic terrain. He studied at the Purcell School of Music and the Royal College where his principal teachers included Tessa Nicholson and Niel Immelman. Having won first prize at the C.V. Alkan – P. J. G. Zimmerman International Piano Competition in Athens in 2012, his international engagements have flourished, he has been broadcast on German Radio and been invited to the Oxford Lieder Festival, Cheltenham Music Festival, ProPiano Hamburg and Husum Rarities of Piano Music in Germany. Last year he was invited to play for the Prince of Wales’s visit to his hometown of Oxford. Due to his close association with unjustly neglected areas of the piano literature, he was recently elected Chairman of the Alkan Society.

His recent recording of Aklan’s 12 Études in the major keys Op. 35 was praised for ‘turning Alkan’s forbidding torrents of notes into real music’.

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My first love was accordion which was brought to my attention in a very spontaneous way by my father when I was around 4 years old. The accordion is used in Macedonia mostly for folk music, although there are many talented people who can play classical music on it as well. I grew up playing folk music on it and I believe that being part of that tradition helped me a lot from the rhythmic point of view, as well as developing a natural musicality especially in terms of lyricism. At the time when I was entering the primary music school there was no accordion to study as a subject, so it seemed more natural to take up on piano.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I certainly had a great influence and great schooling from my Russian teachers, the Romanovs, who taught me the greatest things from the good old Russian tradition and understanding of the music in general. Than I listened to many of the pianistic legends who have inspired me in many different ways. During my concert career I have met many people from different fields around the world who have inspired me to share the musical views and the depths with music lovers. One learns each day and has many different experiences which are part of personal life and interpretation as well.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The music is a challenge by itself. In a good way of course – because it enriches the soul and makes life much more beautiful, especially in these crazy times. It is a challenge to keep such a high level of understanding and sophisticated taste on the music circuit and in the music scene nowadays, especially due to the very commercialized world. I am a person who likes purity and embraces life and tries to share that in the most natural way with the colleagues and audiences.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is a very difficult question! Each concert or recording is a special in its own way. One concert differs from the other but the truth is that a professional and truly dedicated artist always gives his/her best to each performance. If I really have to give one example, then my very first CD for EMI with the Scriabin and Prokofiev Sonatas as well as Pletnev’s Nutcracker arrangement and Stravinsky’s Petrushka is a special one for me for many reasons. Certainly, I am looking forward to the recording that was done at the beginning of this year of my new folk project “Makedonissimo”, with transcriptions of Macedonian folk music, which will hopefully be released in the near future.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It would be unfair to my understanding of the music and my total dedication that I have towards all the different styles to answer this question. I think it is good to leave it to the listeners to judge that.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to have a variety first of all due to the fact that I want to have a more interesting life rather than staying mostly with the same repertoire. Then, I always try to accommodate to the promoters’ wishes and at the end we come to the mutual agreement. I do try to broaden the repertoire carefully each season.

You’re performing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in May. Tell us more about this?

I’m glad I was invited to play this piece with the BSO on tour to Dublin as well. I remember that I played this piece with the orchestra several years ago with Kees Bakels and as always with this group, I have really wonderful memories. I am also very happy to rejoin Kirill in this old warhorse which always brings an immense joy in performance, but we must not forget that it brings a great sense of responsibility due to the fact that it is one of the most popular pieces in the piano repertoire. That is why I always have a very serious approach to the “well known played notes” and I am looking forward to this collaboration again. 

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are certainly great halls around that I have played in, especially in the UK. One really feels nice at the Wigmore Hall, the Light House, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Edinburgh and Perth and Dundee halls for example. But I also like playing in churches which give some majestic feeling. In any case I feel privileged.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who show really natural musicianship and are very natural and simple people. No need to be cautious nor careful. Everything goes smoothly.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are really several ones. The first are certainly strong ones. It is not easy. If I have to give one or few, I will mention my debut with the Macedonian Philharmonic as well as my Wigmore Hall debut. I certainly remember my recital at the Light House in Poole which brings back wonderful memories.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being truly dedicated to what you do, pure and unpressured, and share that in the most natural way without any “external” needs. That should help you to be at one with the music, and that can be felt by the audiences. Keeping the feet strongly on the ground and not “flying in the clouds” artificially. That way you can certainly sleep calm during the nights. And fulfilled.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To be true to themselves after following the most natural guidance of the composers – written in the scores. Keep the logic and nature in the music. Do not try to pretend just for the sake of being different in an unnatural way. It gives the opposite effect.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully in a “safe” place both privately and professionally. Most importantly, to be healthy and with a peace in the soul and mind.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To see my family happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My children.

 

Simon Trpčeski performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, conducted by Kirill Karabits, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on 9 and 10 May in Poole (Lighthouse) and Dublin (National Concert Hall).


Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski performs with the world’s foremost orchestras including London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, Russian National Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne, Helsinki Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Real Filharmonía de Galicia, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, New Japan Philharmonic, China Philharmonic and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He regularly gives solo recitals in such cultural capitals as New York, London, Paris, Munich, Prague and Tokyo, and performs chamber music at festivals such as Verbier, Aspen Music Festival, Bergen International Festival, the Baltic Sea Festival and the BBC Proms.

Conductors he regularly collaborates with include Marin Alsop, Lionel Bringuier, Thomas Dausgaard, Gustavo Dudamel, Jakob Hrůša, Vladimir Jurowski, Susanna Mälkki, Andris Nelsons, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Antonio Pappano, Vasily Petrenko, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lahav Shani, Dima Slobodeniouk, Robin Ticciati and Krzysztof Urbański.

During the 2017/18 season Trpčeski will reunite with the San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich on tour, as well as joining Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and Slovenian Philharmonic, amongst others. Autumn 2017 marks the beginning of a string of diverse performances at London’s Wigmore Hall as an Artist in Residence, featuring his regular duo partnership with the cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, as well as including the UK debut of the self-made folk-based project, “Makedonissimo”, celebrating the music, culture and people of his native Macedonia.

Trpčeski has recorded prolifically to widespread acclaim. His first recording (EMI, 2002) received both the “Editor’s Choice” and “Debut Album” awards at the Gramophone Awards. In 2010 and 2011, his interpretations of Rachmaninov’s four piano concertos with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were recognized with Classic FM, Gramophone “Editor’s Choice,” and Diapason d’Or accolades. Trpčeski’s March 2012 recital at the Wigmore Hall, released on “Wigmore Hall Live”, was immediately hailed by The Telegraph as “Classical CD of the Week.” His most recent recording for Onyx Classics features Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and 3, and again won him the Diapason d’Or in September 2017.

With the special support of KulturOp — Macedonia’s leading cultural and arts organization — and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia, Trpčeski works regularly with young musicians in Macedonia in order to cultivate the talent of the country’s next generation of artists.

Born in the Republic of Macedonia in 1979, Simon Trpčeski is a graduate of the School of Music in Skopje, where he studied with Boris Romanov. He was previously a BBC New Generation Artist, and was honoured with the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2003.

www.trpceski.com

Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?

It was my parents who encouraged me to play the piano when I was a kid. Although they were not professional musicians, they had the great passion for classical music since their youth – my father can play the trumpet, and my mother is an amateur violinist and guitarist. Therefore, my relationship with the instrument started as early as I was about to walk and speak. As things developed naturally, I was quite successful in several local and national piano competitions, but my parents never forced me to pursue an early career as a “prodigy”. On the contrary, they encouraged me to explore other interests in arts, literature, maths, astrology, history, etc. So, although I was clear with myself that I would work in creative environments, I didn’t particularly expect to be a professional musician until the age of 13. At that time, I took part in an international piano competition (my very first international piano competition) in New York City. I won the first prize as well as several recital engagements in the USA including a debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. It was my first time touring overseas, too, so the whole experience opened up my eyes and my mind. Of course, I was quite nervous before my Carnegie Hall debut with repertoire ranging from Liszt’s La Campanella to Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, etc., but thankfully I was well prepared and the resonances from both the audience and the media were very encouraging. Interestingly, I haven’t really encountered any more stage fright since then and I have felt quite natural performing on stage ever since, so I suppose it was truly the turning point in my early musical life.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Many great people have lightened my musical life, and many critical turning points have shaped my career. First of all, I was fortunate enough to have studied with some of the most renowned piano professors I could ever have dreamed to study with, such as Christopher Elton who first discovered me playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations in Germany in 2006. Thereafter I spent the most crucial, fruitful and fascinating years of my undergraduate and postgraduate study with him at the Royal Academy of Music in London, with the generous support from foundations and individuals including the Tabor Foundation, the David Cohen Trust, Sir. David Tang and the Hattori Foundation, to name but a few. Also, I studied with Bashkirov in Madrid before my move to London. I was among his youngest students at that time and his rigorous teaching and the Russian School heritage built a strong foundation for my profound love of Russian repertoire and beyond. Of course, I am ever grateful to my professors in China, where my fingers and technique were trained professionally and solidly at a young age which allowed me to develop my musical understanding and horizons to the next levels during those early years. Also, my fruitful collaboration with Classic FM and the mentorship I have received from various musicians and organisations since my graduation together with my part-time PhD project at King’s College London have all helped to further nurture my playing and my perspective to music-making to an even more comprehensive degree.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

As a performer, I profoundly believe that it is the musician’s excellent playing (to play the right repertoire in the right way at the right time) that makes the musician’s career. So, I see challenges through the music and I set new goals in the ways I programme my concerts and how I play those programmes. One interesting fact about the eternal nature of classical music is the countless possibilities for performing one single piece, if one can be creative and humble enough. It is important to have the confidence and the ability to express oneself openly and sincerely through music which is, in itself, a big challenge. Also, musicians are human beings like everyone else and we have to deal with everyday issues such as coping with jet-lag during our international tours and to deal with stress, etc. So, to think about music and beyond, to keep the awareness of listening, to have the patience of managing silence and to have the courage to say no sometimes are all important to me.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Having just answered the topic about “challenge”, this is indeed a challenging question! Thinking about the most recent one, if I were allowed, I would put my new album “Fire and Water” in the list. In the preparation of this album, I was drawing the Chinese philosophical idea of “Wu Xing” to the programme, showcasing piano music written around the transition between the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, such as Scriabin’s 2nd Piano Sonata, Debussy’s Preludes and Stravinsky/Agosti’s Firebird Suite. It is a project that I have been working on over past year and it well represents my artistic and musical aesthetic in many ways.

Regarding some notable performances, many other facts than the playing itself could add extra excitement, as I recall. For example, one of my most memorable recitals was at the Bristol Proms where the concert was staged by theatre director Tom Morris and programmed with John Cage’s 4:33 and Bach’s Goldberg Variations together. So, I am still proud of presenting the Goldbergs in such radical and controversial way yet of staging it convincingly. Also, I played one of Schubert’s rarely performed but utterly beautiful sonatas D.571 (unfinished) together with piano works by Rzewski and Scriabin at some of my recitals, including the recent one at the Verbier Festival last year. The process of discovering and re-discovering unusual pieces through creative programming is something that I find extremely meaningful and something which helps me communicate with an audience. My recent debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall and giving the world-premiere of Einaudi’s Piano Concerto with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic also always make me smile when I think about them, too.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I don’t really pigeonhole myself to one particular genre or one type of work – and I am always curious and seek out new repertoire to learn. However, from what I have experienced over recent years and looking to the future from an objective perspective, I would very much like to explore more works in which I could further enhance my creativity in programming and the way I present them in live performances. The direction of this journey would start with the work of composers from the French Baroque such as Rameau and Couperin, as well as works by my musical hero, Schubert, through the reflection of more impressionism to the modern music of our time.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

No, I don’t throw the dice and decide… Balance, creativity, unity and uniqueness are always the keywords when talking about repertoire. I think one has to make things clear in the mind between dream and reality, creativity and practicality. I am quite down to earth and honest with what my current musical strengths are as well as where my practical limits are each season, so the choice of the repertoire is a combination of my almost scientific and cool-minded analysis and my long-term artistic vision and passion.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I think the great performance makes the perfect concert venue. The participation of the audience also makes certain vibration and atmosphere in the hall which could turn around the acoustic completely. Some places might suit particular repertoires better than the others. So, I think the majority of my own thoughts on concert venues is very subjective. Over these past years though, I have thoroughly enjoyed playing not only in the big halls such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall in which I actually enjoy the acoustic by performing the Goldbergs as well as Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto, but also in some more intimate spaces around the country including some exquisite churches and concert society venues. Wigmore Hall falls perfectly into this category where it seems that it would be hard for anyone not to sound beautiful!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I could possibly still be answering this questions in several days! Overall, the musicians and the recordings of the first decades of the 20th century always give me a lot of pleasure, both to listen to them and to learn from them. As I have noted about my album “Fire and Water”, the recording was my homage to both the golden age of piano playing as well as to the music-making (in every sense) of that period and it is also very much a tribute to some of the pianists I admire the most, from Rachmaninov and Sofronitsky to Horowitz, Michelangeli and Argerich, to name but a few. Thanks to the technology of our age, we can now get access to endless sources of recordings on-line, so there will always be something great and fabulous to be heard and from which to learn.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are some memorable concerts I have attended that still cause quite a stir inside my mind. I think one of the most extraordinary concerts that I ever attended was hearing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony conducted by Christopher von Dohnanyi at the Verbier Festival when I was 15. Also in the same year, I heard Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and that performance opened up my ongoing interest in both Stravinsky’s music and contemporary music. Also, Andras Schiff’s performance of the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.111 as an encore after the Diabelli Variations at the Wigmore Hall was one of the most enlightening spiritual journeys I have ever been on. I clapped too hard that evening and had to have a day off from my practise session the next day to recover!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Along with the growth of age and experience etc., the definition of success also means something different. Personally, I don’t think music-making – which is what we actually do as a musician – should be measured or defined by “success”. But if one has to put it this way, in my opinion, the success of the musician is as simple as having the discipline to work hard, the energy to perform well, the dream to develop further, friends with whom to make music and curiosity and ambition for lifelong learning.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To learn all the rules is most critical and essential, but then to follow one’s intuition is something that one should also take account when aspiring to make great music. Also, one should always keep in mind that why we make music – is it all about winning a competition or securing a successful career, or is it something far beyond these instant outcomes? I think the longevity and creativity are the qualities that would definitely help to make a much healthier and more thriving musical journey.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I hope I will still sit in front of some gorgeous music and play faithfully every day – this applies not only to the next 10 years, but also the next 50 years.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In Chinese, there is a saying called 乐极生悲 which translated into English as “Joy surfeited turns to sorrow”. Music inspires and teaches me to see through things in many different ways and aspects. Nevertheless, if one had to categorise and grade the level of happiness, I assume that to be able to focus on the things in which one believes and to be able to live it with great enthusiasm, would be perfect happiness – which in my case, is to be a musician in every sense.

What is your most treasured possession?

I would say my family, mentors, friends, and all the wonderful people who have been and will be with me on my musical journey.

What is your present state of mind?

Peaceful and thriving at the same time!

 

Ji Liu’s new album Fire and Water is available now on the ClassicFM label. More information


Ji Liu (born 1990) is a Chinese-born concert pianist, recording artist and composer, currently based in London.

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(Photo: ClassicFM)